For any decent strategist, blackjack is a game of situational decisions. One such decision that most veterans will tell you never to make is splitting 10s, especially when facing a 5 or 6 from the dealer. However, casino gambling expert Mark Pilarski says there are actually a “few exceptions” to that rule.
Pilarski has a great deal of experience in the field of blackjack. He spent 18 years working for 7 different casinos. He’s filled the shoes of a multitude of roles in the casino gambling sector, employed as a cashier cage worker, a dealer, a boxman, a floorman, a pit boss, even a casino games manager.
These days, however, Pilarski has left the commercial casino industry behind, instead working as a journalist. He has his own nationally syndicated column called Deal Me In, writes periodicals for numerous gaming magazines and sells his own award-winning series of Audio-Books called “Hooked on Winning”.
Last week, Mark Pilarski tackled a tough subject when one of his readers, Herb C., asked the following question: “I am aware that you never – ever – ever split 10s against a dealer’s 5 or 6. However, I have been tempted to do so when no one else is at the Blackjack table. My question is what is the percentage odds of winning (or losing) by doing so?”
Mark first addressed the blackjack strategy of John Scarne, who published ‘Scarne on Cards’ in in 1949. Scarne felt that splitting 10s was a good strategy, but that was 65 years ago, before computers were able to analyze hand statistics. In 1962, Edward Thorpe used an IBM 704 to analyze blackjack hands, and when he published his results in ‘Beat the Dealer’, the theory of splitting 10s was abolished.
“Since then,” wrote Mark, “I can’t think of any blackjack authors that recommend splitting 10s in most, if not all, cases.” He said that he ran his own 20-million hand simulation on a program called BJ Trainer. The results “clearly favored leaving those 10s unaided versus splitting them, even against a 5 or a 6.” Pilarski reasoned, “I favor taking computer results over advice written in 1949 every time.”
However, the blackjack strategist went on to describe a few very rare occasions when he himself felt it was in his best interest to split 10s in a blackjack game. The first is during a game of Face-Up 21, a blackjack variant in which both of the dealer’s cards are exposed. Mark said splitting 10s is a good strategy so long as the dealer’s confirmed total is “13, 14, 15 or 16.”
Pilarski also noted that, for an experienced card counter, it is a good idea to split 10s against a dealer’s 6 if the count favors a lot of high cards left in the deck, such as a count of 6 or above.
Mark said that there is only “one other scenario where splitting 10s can be the better play than standing.” He described a situation in which he himself once experienced. It was the final hand of a blackjack tournament, and Pilarski had been dealt a 20. Although he knew the most probable way to win the hand was to stand, doing so “wouldn’t have won enough money to overtake” the dealer. So he chose to split the 10s and got lucky, winning enough chips to move on to the next round of the blackjack tournament.
As for Herb C’s original question, pertaining to the “percentage odds of winning or losing”, Mark said, “the statistical data on how often you will win when you split a pair of 10s against a dealer showing a 6 is 64% of the time.” Thus the expected profit would be just $56 for every $100 wagered on such a hand.
Mark then examined the odds of “standing pat on your 20”. The blackjack analyst said that, “by standing, you will win around 85 percent of the time, and will make about $14 more per $100 wagered than splitting.”
In conclusion, Mark Pilarski recommended that a blackjack player “stand on your 20” in all situations, outside of those “few exceptions” listed above. “Your fair share of being dealt a 20 is approximately 9.2% of the time, and I just don’t want you putting that stellar hand in unwarranted jeopardy”.